PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels need better secondary play to be successful

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Football coaches, the ones who wish to deflect attention rather than absorb it, will tell you it’s all about the players.
Recruiting is the life-blood of the program we’re told.
I believe that to be true, by the way, but it takes all parts to make a whole. If coaching isn’t important then we can redistribute some salary money.
Obviously coaching matters. If it didn’t, teams wouldn’t be in such a rush to make changes.
In speaking with Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix this spring, he was quick to point to players as the key ingredient in winning.
Among their players in 2010, the Rebels didn’t have enough speed. That’s something that’s changed this season with some new players coming in, but new players are automatically inexperienced.
Regardless of experience, the new players must matter at Ole Miss.
But so must the new coaches, particularly Keith Burns.
There are three new assistants on staff, and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee and passing game coordinator and receivers coach Gunter Brewer will no doubt make an impact.
Scoring wasn’t a problem for Ole Miss last year. Unfortunately, scoring wasn’t a problem for Ole Miss opponents either. When you’re 4-8 there are improvements you can make in each phase, but the Rebels averaged almost 31 points in 2010, seventh in the SEC, 41st in America.
Those aren’t chest-thumping numbers until you consider the defense, where the Rebels’ allowed 35.17 points a game, last in the SEC in 107th out of 120 FBS teams.
Ole Miss was No. 109 in pass defense efficiency, just six interceptions on the season. Only five teams picked off fewer.
That is the group Burns inherits. He was named the secondary coach in January and will take the lead on the cornerbacks, which were thin in number in the spring.
Speed is on the way
The addition of signees Senquez Gholson and possibly Nick Brassell if he moves from wide receiver addresses the speed issue. So does junior college transfer Wesley Pendleton, who went through spring drills.
The biggest change in the secondary may come with increased press coverage, more of an in-your-face attacking approach.
“People who know me know I like to pressure, to bump and run, to press at the line of scrimmage,” Burns said. “The passing game is primarily about the timing component. When you’re off in cushion you’re rarely going to disrupt timing.”
Press coverage and inexperience may sound like a study in contradiction, and the Ole Miss cornerbacks, whoever they turn out to be, will win some and lose some.
But many times they’ll have an advantage by simply being closer to the receiver. Not all quarterbacks will believe in themselves enough to throw the perfect pass, but all can complete an average pass when the cushion is too large.
The cornerbacks seemed to respond to Burns, a high-energy guy, in the spring.
He will be able to work with new pieces and parts in August, from which he’ll seek to improve his part of the whole.
If Burns can help restore order in the secondary it will be a major step – not the only necessary step – to help repair the Rebels.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.